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Worcester to Tame One of Its Most Dangerous Streets With Narrower Roadway, Protected Bike Lanes

A wide four-lane city street under a blue sky. On the right edge of the photo is a historic five-story brick apartment building with bay windows. On the left edge is a BP gas station. The wide roadway through the center of the photo only has a handful of cars on it, a few of which are parked at the curbside.

Chandler Street in Worcester at its intersection with Murray Avenue, one block away from Main Street. Courtesy of the City of Worcester.

The City of Worcester last week held a public hearing for a proposed reconstruction of Chandler Street, one of the city's most dangerous roadways, that would narrow the roadway to tame traffic and create space for physically-protected, sidewalk-level bike lanes.

Chandler Street runs from Main Street at the edge of downtown Worcester to Tatnuck Square on the city's western edge. Through more suburban neighborhoods west of Park Avenue, it is a two-lane city street, but for a mile-long segment in the densely-populated Piedmont neighborhood, between Park Ave. and Main Street, it's a considerably wider four-lane street with on-street parking.

Locator map of Chandler Street in Worcester. Downtown Worcester is in the upper-right side of the map, with Interstate 290 running along the right edge. In the upper center is Elm Park. Chandler Street runs roughly horizontally through the center of the image. A segment of Chandler is highlighted with a dotted green line between Park Ave. (which runs next to Elm Park) and Main Street (which runs through downtown) as the project location.
Map of Chandler Street in Worcester. The dotted green line indicates the segment that is being redesigned, between Park Ave. and Main Street.

"It's got the typical problems you see on four-lane streets: there are double-threat crosswalks that make it really difficult to cross as a pedestrian, cars weaving around each other, lots of crashes," says Stephen Rolle, Commissioner of Worcester's Department of Transportation and Mobility.

In terms of safety, Rolle says that this segment of Chandler Street is "one of the worst" in the entire city.

It includes 9 intersections that rank among MassDOT's "top 5 percent" crash location clusters, and the entire mile-long segment also ranks among the top 5 percent of the Commonwealth's most dangerous streets for crashes involving pedestrians or people riding bikes.

Plan would swap redundant car lanes for protected bikeways

The city's plan, which is still being refined, would mitigate the risks of crashes by consolidating the street's motor vehicle traffic into a single lane in each direction, with a center left-turn lane.

The street's on-street parking lanes, which have relatively low levels of utilization, would be consolidated to one side of the street only.

Those two changes would narrow down the roadway to encourage slower, safer speeds, while freeing up enough space on each side of the street to build new sidewalk-level bike lanes in the space where the existing on-street parking is:

A sketch of the proposed new Chandler street in a horizontal cross-section. The heading reads "Chandler Street: Preferred Concept - separated one-way cycle tracks." On the left and right are sketches of two multi-story buildings seen from the side. In the middle is the street, with two 10' sidewalks on either side, and two bike lanes (5 feet wide) with 3-foot buffer zones between the bike lane and the adjacent roadway. In the center, a darker-gray rectangle indicates the asphalt roadway. It includes four lanes: from left to right, they would be a 12-foot westbound through lane with a small shoulder, an 11-foot "TWLTL" (two-way left turn lane), an 11-foot eastbound driving lane, and an 8-foot parking lane.
The proposed cross-section of the reconstructed Chandler Street would reduce the number of lanes for cars and re-purpose the right-of-way to add sidewalk-level protected bike lanes on each side of the street. Courtesy of the City of Worcester.
An overhead satellite view of a city street with new street markings overlaid on the satellite image. A compass arrow in the upper right indicates that the top of the image is north. From top to bottom/north to south, the sketch shows a sidewalk on the northern edge, followed by a green bike lane for westbound bike traffic, followed by a narrower sidewalk buffer. Then, a darker grey stripe indicates a westbound lane for motor vehicles. In the middle is a center left-turn lane, divided by yellow lines on either side. Then an eastbound driving lane, then a parking lane indicated by white "T"-shaped markings that divide individual parking spaces. Then a narrow sidewalk buffer, an eastbound bike lane, and the southern sidewalk.
An aerial view of the concept plan for Chandler Street. Courtesy of the City of Worcester.

These new bike lanes would set up Chandler Street to become a major east-west bike route across the city. Worcester is planning another "complete streets" project further west on Chandler Street, next to Worcester State University, with a pair of roundabouts and shared-use pathways.

'Really positive' reception from neighbors

City of Worcester Department of Transportation and Mobility staff presented the concept at an in-person neighborhood meeting on Thursday, November 16th.

Rolle, the Department Commissioner, said that while some people had questions about particulars of the plan, the overall reception was "really positive."

"People are really excited about the project. There's an overwhelming consensus – at least among the people who attended – that we need to re-think this street and re-establish a sense of place there... People are in agreement that we really need to focus on safety."

Karin Goins, a street safety advocate affiliated with WalkBike Worcester, agreed with Rolle's characterization, and expressed gratitude that her city is taking a new safety-focused approach to designing its streets.

"It just represents such a different approach from the city," Goins told StreetsblogMASS in a phone call the morning after the neighborhood meeting. "It's highway right now, and they're really looking to design it so that it serves the neighborhood instead."

Rolle told StreetsblogMASS that the city will host another public hearing for a more detailed "25 percent" design scheme sometime in mid-2024.

The actual reconstruction of the street would be split into two phases, with the eastern portion (from Queen to Main Street) built in 2026, and the western portion (from Park to Queen) built in 2027.

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